Sunday, September 25, 2011

Film Review: HESHER




            The film HESHER is billed as a comedy.  There it is, right on the DVD box,
"Hilarious", says Eric Vespe of AINT IT COOL NEWS.
            While there are many moments that Hesher's behavior is funny by way of its sheer incongruity, this is a very sad film.  It's about a family grieving for the mother, who died two months ago in a traffic accident.  The bereaved father, son and grandma live in a cluttered house whose air is so thick with pain that it's enough to knock you flat just walking through the door.
            Hesher is a thirty-ish slacker who seems to have radar for helpless people.  He finds them and uses them to support his slacker lifestyle.  He lives in houses under construction or in empty vacationer's houses or sometimes in his black-primered van.  His magnetism derives from the fact that he is utterly without etiquette, morals, or concern for what anyone else thinks.  He commits a continuous string of crimes, walking through their concussions as if he is a distant spectator, unaware of the pain he creates in the people who get too near his blast zone.  We keep wanting him to be a hero, but he's not.  He's a selfish asshole without any deep personal connections.  He doesn't deserve any, and that seems to be fine with Hesher.
            TJ, the twelve year old son, rides his bike in pursuit of the family's fatal accident-car.  He follows it to the garage where he asks to buy it back.  He's obsessed with the death car, an ordinary red sedan with clear indications of the lethal T-bone that took his mother's life.  The whole family was in the car when it was hit.  Everyone else was okay.  TJ's mother took the full impact.
            The car is TJ's only connection to his mother's memory.  It's morbid, weird, but that's how it plays.  TJ wants the car so badly that he steals his father's credit card and offers the buying price but it's too late.  The car has gone to the wrecker's, where it is being reduced to a small cube of scrap metal. 
            The garage owner throws him out.  It happens that the garage owner has a sixteen year old son who is TJ's nightmare bully, a spike-haired pimply monster who owns a yellow convertible sports car.
            Hesher meets TJ when the latter throws a rock through the window of a partially constructed house, which is located in a partially constructed subdivision.  The rock throwing draws the cops.  Hesher beats a hasty retreat, tossing a smoke bomb (or something that looks like a hand grenade) out the window and jumping into his black van.  He follows TJ home, strips down to his undies, puts his clothes in the wash, helps himself to food and sets up a room in the garage.  TJ's dad is too passive from taking pills to object.  Grandma takes it as yet another bizarre page in life's crazy book.  Grandma has prescription marijuana cigarettes for an unspecified illness.  This is lovely for Hesher, who initiates granny into the virtues of the bong.
            Grandma is the only person with some sap left in the leaves and stems of her life.  She's beyond being shocked by human behavior.  She takes Hesher as she finds him, and a bond arises between the old lady and the punk who looks like Jesus and has a tattoo on his back of a large hand giving the world The Finger.
            This film belongs, lock stock and barrel, to the character of TJ, played by Devin Brochu.  His rage and sadness are so visceral, so real that I can't help but wonder how a boy his age comes by such experience.  There are a lot of great young actors and I often ask the same question but I've never seen a child actor carry such a sense of the world's unfairness.  Brochu's performance is amazing, worth an Oscar with a side order of Golden Globe.  He projects his rage, his devastation, he builds a wall between himself and his father, between himself and the world, yet there is still a chink of vulnerability.  That chink is plastered over with a sign written in plain English: NO ONE GETS NEAR ME!
            Grandma tries her best.  She's always inviting him on walks.  "Teej, it's such a beautiful day, why don't you come with me on my walk through the park?"
            "I'm busy, grandma, I've got school grandma, I've got homework grandma."  TJ 's not letting any fresh air reach him.  He's basting his grievance in the furnace of his rage and it's scary. 
            Hesher isn't his buddy.  Hesher fails TJ on every count.  When Big Bully is pushing TJ's face into the urinal cake in the school bathroom, Hesher happens along, takes a look at the situation and walks back out the door.
            "Why didn't you help me?", TJ later demands.  Hesher takes a can of gasoline in one hand, pinions TJ's wrists in the other and drags him to Big Bully's house.  The spotless yellow sports car gets a douse of gasoline.
            TJ's angry but TJ isn't stupid or insane.  He begs Hesher to stop.  Hesher doesn't stop.  The convertible goes up in flames and the next day the police are putting TJ and his dad through the wringer.  Being a minor, TJ is set free.  His father asks, "did you burn that car, T.J?"
            "No," says TJ  "Well, sort of..." he equivocates, then decides to stay with "No."  How can he explain what happened?
            One day Hesher goes to granny's room and finds her dead on the floor.
            It's a moment when TJ and his dad must either break irrevocably or find a new path.  It's the moment when Hesher becomes the hero we've always wanted him to be.  He shows up at the funeral holding a giant can of beer.  I can't reveal subsequent events without being a spoiler.  Let's just say that at last granny gets her walk with TJ, dad, and her pal Hesher.
            This is a good film.  Directed by Spencer Susser, written and directed by Susser and David Michod, it's odd, sometimes funny, poignant and never quite what we expect.  The conventional line would have been to cast Hesher as the subtle Zen Master with method to his madness, leading his grieving new friends to healing acceptance.  That's not gonna happen.  Hesher is not Mister Miyagi.  Hesher is more like the broken watch that tells the correct time twice a day.  Fortunately, he gets it right after granny's death, when it's needed the most.
            Four muskrats for this film, with Rainn Wilson as Mr. Forney, Piper Laurie as Grandma, Natalie Portman with glasses and split ends as a grocery clerk who befriends TJ.  Of course there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a fine imitation of Hesher. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of X-MEN FIRST CLASS


Examined by Aliens while sleeping in jeep

           What is the message of this movie?  It's simple: don't be ashamed to be yourself!  If your body is covered by hundreds of zebra stripes that come to life and attack people who have ticked you off,  well...that's okay.  Or, for instance, you could have eyeballs that pop out of your head on stalks that get infinitely long and have the tensile strength of titanium and follow your commands with the dexterity of a classical pianist, well....that's okay too.  Don't be ashamed! There are others who are...well...different.  And they're looking for you. 
            We all know the world is full of mutants.  Look around, anywhere, any time.  Mutants.  Your next door neighbor is probably a mutant.  You might even be a mutant and not know it.  You might do mutant things in your sleep, like eat the contents of an entire bakery and not gain weight.  It's possible, isn't it?
            X-MEN FIRST CLASS extends the Marvel Comics empire with a prequel, a look at the adolescent X-People and the ways they first defined themselves as mutant heroes and villains.  A selection of the classic characters make their youthful appearances.  Magneto is here,  as are Raven,  Havok, Beast and a youthful pre-wheelchair Charles Xavier.
            There's a philosophical divide established in this film, as to who is hero and who is villain.  One side regards the human race per se as just so much evolutionary garbage.  Greedy, destructive, lacking impulse control, addicted to wearing dark suits and driving big dark cars, humans are so much dross to be sloughed off in the wash of new mutations. This new breed will make a glorious  civilization in the future.
            On the other hand, the human race is a flawed but soulful species that redeems its mayhem with beautiful and noble acts.  It's capable of creating sublime art and architecture and there is a fundamental Goodness at the core of the species Homo Sapiens.  Humans simply need guidance.  Soon enough they will be ready to take their place in the galactic civilization that will arise in the coming eons.
            Frankly, I find it a toss-up.  If I were a young mutant with the ability to make my circulatory system emit radiations that can heal all the diseases of mankind, I'm not sure which group of mutants I'd join.  I suppose I'd go with Dr. Xavier because he's sweet and has such plump lips and is obviously a man of integrity.  I don't like Sebastian Shaw because he's into concealing his thoughts from mutant telepaths, and besides, he was a Nazi and barely escaped the destruction of The Third Reich with his britches on fire.  He's a visionary, yes, but when Kevin Bacon wants to play villain, he can be really scary.  My wife has always been terrified of Kevin Bacon.  He scared her even when he played sympathetic parts.
            I've never been into Marvel Comics.  I was born to an earlier generation that read Superman, Wonder Woman and Archie comics.  I guess that makes me a D.C comics guy.  Whoa, I hope that doesn't mean I'm a Republican.
            As a movie, X-Men First Class is pretty ordinary fare.  All I ever ask of a film is that it be entertaining, that I'll want to watch it to the end and not bail out in the first ten minutes.  X-Men First Class meets that standard.  Is it up to the Rotten Tomatoes rating of 87%?  I don't think so.  I'd give it two and a half muskrats.  87%?  I think my run of Marvel Comics-based movies has hit a wall.  I've gotten bored with the concept.  I'll wait for Robert Downey or Christian Bale to re-appear as Iron Bat or whatever that thing is that climbs walls and changes shape every couple of seconds.  The half muskrat is for James McAvoy, who is the weirdest looking leading man in the film industry today.  Okay, maybe Owen Wilson tops the weird looks department, but I have a lot more respect for the acting abilities of Mr. McAvoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Movie Review: THOR, directed by Kenneth Branagh

The Orion Nebula in mostly infrared



Thor:  A Review


            We have become a people inured to the stupendous.  The term "awesome" has become the ultimate superlative.  What's beyond "awesome"? Mega-awesome?  Hyper-awesome?  Has it become Gi-normous?  Our imaginations have been fertilized by The Hubble Telescope.  We think it terms of billions of light years.  Our movie special effects are so good that we expect, we DEMAND, a higher level of stimulation.  So, the Romans watched people eaten by lions.  Fech!  Big deal.  We've watched movies of the most gruesome realism.  In the so-called real world we've watched colossal tsunamis ravage continents, storms of staggering power, melting ice caps, species going extinct before our eyes.
            What haven't we seen by now?
            Here's a movie about Marvel Comic character slash ancient Norse god The Mighty Thor.
It's directed by Kenneth Branagh.  What an odd match-up.  Branagh's name is synonymous with Class.  He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at 23, then founded his own Shakespeare troupe.  His film version of HENRY THE FIFTH made Shakespeare accessible and exciting.  Getting Branagh involved in any project is to raise the bar, to nudge expectations upward.  The formula has held so far: Branagh = not trash.
            A lot of things did not happen in the movie THOR.  There was no thespian rug-chewing.  The villain did not twirl his moustaches.  The special effects were beautiful, not merely stunning.  The fight scenes did not go on and on.  The love story was light and believable.
            Given the budget and the subject matter, a lesser director would have cast Vin Diesel as Thor and had him throw his hammer through the Pentagon, from whence it would have drilled its way through the earth and come up in the Chinese version of the Pentagon and then split into a hundred hammer-clones that would wreck all the military command centers on the planet before whooshing back into Thor's outstretched fingers.  Haha!
            In Branagh's self-assured hand we get hunky Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
Hemsworth looks like a sweet surfer dude.  He plays his character without hyperbole.  The story arc is the classic "arrogant prince gets humbled before attaining his full legacy as a wise king."
            The real star of the film is its beauty.  Cast and crew have deferred to the setting, the cosmos, and they have used the latest telescope imagery to render a universe that is awe inspiring with its clouds of black dust back-lit by radiant nebulae. 
            This is no masterpiece of a film.  It's possible that half my pleasure was simple relief, that the cliché chorus didn't come out ringing its bells and insulting  my intelligence.
            Three muskrats.  I'd give it three and a half but it's a comic book film,
people, albeit an awesome comic book film. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Review of the film HANNA


Hanna: A Review


            I should make a rule.  If a movie blurb has the acronym CIA in it, I should pass.  I got suckered by the idea of a wild child being raised in the back woods of Finland.  I wanted to see Finland.  That's why I rented the movie HANNA.  Everything else was loaded with the usual signals. CIA, CIA, CperiodIperiodAperiod.
            The CIA has become a  cinematic boogeyman, a narrative trope for deception, rogue agents who are awesome martial artists, plots within plots within plots, old paper files that should have been burned at the end of the Cold War, EVIL, pure old fashioned EVIL.  This is our main national security agency, the one that sets the paradigm.  It's interesting how much we depend on it and hate it.  No one imbues the DIA, the NSC, the FBI or dozens of other acronymic agencies with such an aura of sinister misdirection.  No other agency is synonymous with THE BIG LIE.
            Here is the movie, HANNA, directed by Jon Wright, and starring Saoirse Ronan as the waif-like uber-warrior, martial artist supreme.  My first problem was simply working out the pronunciation of the girl's name.  Turns out it's pronounced Seer-sha.  Hoooray!  I think the Irish are just having a laugh at our expense, cleaving with ethnic loyalty to the old Gaelic names.  I can imagine it, the Christening of a girl child, and the parents confer in ponderous whispers.  "Let's call her Riaoirdhagnha-hna."  Couldn't just call her Riordan, could ya?
            I'm having a bit of fun, certainly not slinging ethnic slurs.  The Irish are entitled to defiance.  As are the Blacks, the Jews, the Arabs, the Ethiopian Coptics, the Mormons, The Kurds and everyone else.  No one needs opt out of defiance.  It's the national creed of all nations.  Oh say can you seeeeee?
            Let me see if I can compress the plot of this movie into a logical sequence.
A while ago, in the mid-nineties, the CIA funded a program to mess with genetic sequencing via in-vitro fertilization.  The idea was to see if they could produce a SUPER SOLDIER, a warrior with superior reflexes, intelligence, better vision, better hearing, greater strength and so forth. 
            If we want to trace the origins of this cliche, we may go back to sci fi maven Isaac Asimov writing in the fifties and then fast forward twenty years to Bionic Man. 
            This program (the one in the movie) produced maybe twenty children and then the bottom dropped out of it.  The film gives us a five second vignette of fast cuts of news and magazine items.  Apparently a certain number of children met untimely deaths, around the same time and locale.  Guess the CIA didn't want freaky little chromosome carriers running around the world.
            There's a flashback scene of Cate Blanchett stepping out from behind a snow-bound road sign and firing six or eight or ten shots from her nine millimeter Beretta at an oncoming car.  The vehicle contains a man, a woman, and a toddler.  This brilliant, foolproof assassination plan doesn't work.  My goodness!  The toddler's mother is dying in the snow and curses Blanchett's character, agent Marrisa Wiegler, with her final words: "You'll never take her."  Or was it, "You'll never find her?" Whatever.  Male person/daddy and super-toddler have vanished into the eerie north woods.
            There must be another rule, a Hollywood rule, that if you have a movie that's just middling in quality and if you can land Cate Blanchett in the cast it will add enough class to the project to push it uphill a notch into cinematic respectability.
            I must admit that Blanchett played her high level agent like the perfect Wicked Witch.  "Come here, child, I won't hurt you," she says with a voice like dry ice.  We know her character's nuts by the way she brushes her teeth.  She attacks her gums until she can spit blood.  It's interesting that Blanchett distances herself in the movie's credits.  It's hard to discover that she is actually IN the movie.  In spite of  near-dominant screen time, she's a somewhat hidden "And Cate Blanchett" way back in the cast credits.
            Okay okay okay.  The movie was entertaining.  It was as saturated with cliche as a Denny's waffle is with maple syrup.  Two thirds of the film time was taken up with chases.  Watch out for chases.  Rule Number twenty three: long chases are evidence of the director's lack of imagination. 
            At the end of the movie the chasing goes on in an abandoned theme park with headless dinosaurs and roller coaster tunnels.  The final scene has Blanchett emerging from the mouth of the Big Bad Wolf.
            I never quite figured out why Blanchett was chasing Hanna through the park and then suddenly Hanna was chasing Blanchett through the park.  It didn't make sense.  Did Marissa Wiegler (that's another thing, was she a German with a Southern accent?  Or a Southern with a German accent?.  Sheeesh.)  Each had hurt the other.  Hanna had created a functioning crossbow while running full tilt through the abandoned theme park.  Blanchett had shot Hanna somewhere near the abdomen but apparently her super genes included quick healing.  There was some symbolic dwelling on Wiegler's shoes in an earlier scene.  Apparently these shoes are the witch's undoing, because she slips, ooops, just at the climactic moment of confrontation, and goes head first down some bobsled track thingy.  Then the ironic comments get to be uttered.  "I just missed your heart", says Hanna, in a reference to the first scene in the film when she's hunting a caribou buck and mercifully gives him the coup de grace.  She told the magnificent animal, with appropriately aboriginal predator/prey bonding, "I just missed your heart."
            I guess I won't be spoiling anything to say that the movie ends with a bang.
            I rate it three muskrats.  Coulda been better.  Fairly entertaining. Coulda been a lot worse.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Momma Told Me There'd Be Days Like This

Early morning view from inside our RV

Talk about a day that goes wrong.  Let me 'splain, Lucy.  We live in an RV, in a campground.  One of the campground rules is that once a year we have to uproot ourselves and move to another site.  I must make it very clear that site choice is a fine art, and it takes a veteran to choose a site that isn't next door to hip-hoppin' meth-lab freaks who d'zizz all night long.  And that's just on the left side.  On the right side I might have a seventy five year old evangelical lady who wears the same two mu-mus and loves to proselytize her religion and hand out copies of her church magazine, Apocalypse How. 
            No no.  A  good site is a gift.  And we had a good site.  The change shouldn't have been too bad.  We were moving next door.  We have an arrangement whereby we keep swapping with our neighbor, back and forth, etc.  The neighbor isn't bad. She's as loony as the rest of us, but she's quiet.
            Unfortunately, she knows nothing of RV maintenance.  Her gigantic fifth wheel has been decaying before our eyes, and this time, when MOVING TIME arrived, she couldn't move.  Things didn't function.  Her slides wouldn't go in and out.  Hence, she was stuck.  Hence we were stuck.
            Let's cut to the chase.  Eight or nine hours later I had to drive our 38 foot motor coach around the  circular road that services the RV park.  I clipped a planter full of flowers and caved in one of my bay doors.  In certain places, the amount of space through which to drive a big RV can be pretty tight.  I had to go around again, because the neighbor STILL wasn't ready.  On the second go-around, someone had parked a car where it hadn't been before.  I had inches to clear on each side.  I'm watching mirrors and sticking my head out the window and the manager is somewhere behind me screaming "turn right, no turn left, no back up!"
            I clipped the manager's RV.  I should say I clipped ONE of the manager's RVs because he buys and sells them after refurbishing.  My clip made a ding about six inches long next to his headlight.  You wouldn't see it if you weren't looking for it.
I can't show you pics because now I'm in the midst of an insurance claim.
            It's been that kind of day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Link to my novel-in-progress, THE SHADOW STORM

This is the link to my work in progress, a multi-book series called THE SHADOW STORM, an epic adventure novel that takes place on an alternate world that looks a lot like the Balkans in the year 1900.http://bit.ly/ngDcCz

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Death Of Beauty





How can beauty be killed?
Melt the ice caps;
Beauties that we've known and loved
will die.
Polar bears will swim to exhaustion,
their cubs will starve.
A beautiful creature is dying,
but is beauty dead?
Poach ivory from elephants until
there are no more elephants.
A great and profound beauty is dying.
I feel its death throes in my body, but still
I doubt that beauty is dead.
There is no end of beauty.  Perhaps
when a small piece of beauty is murdered,
it diminishes those of us who live in this time,
for we are accomplice to the crime.
I don't see myself as a beauty killer.
I see myself as a beauty maker.
But I can't stop the tides that are rising,
the beaches that are drowning,
the skies that are fading.
We killed beauty for comfort.  I did.
You did.  I bought into the con
until I saw the contempt in the con.
When I saw the con, I stomped on it like a poisoned artifact.
Beauty killer!  Murderer!  Earth hater!
Is beauty dead?  It can't be.
The desolate tide flats where bones show in the mud,
where mangled soldiers lie, where steel and gunpowder
show their leavings.  That's what I see, but that isn't all
there is to see.  Beauty still lives.  Beauty is immortal.
We  may kill ourselves with the lies
we have lived.  We may go the way of the whale and the polar bear.
swimming until we're exhausted.
Beauty may be wounded, convalescing, emaciated, ravaged,
but with or without us
beauty will return.